|Previous||Table of Contents||Next|
Based on the 1987 recommendation by the National Council on Educational Reform (NCER) (Rinji kyōiku shingikai, Rinkyōshin for short), the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been implementing large-scale educational reforms for deregulation, diversification, and individualization. This chapter will serve as a general introduction to the Japanese school education and its historical development. It will conclude with comparisons of the educational systems in Japan and in the United States.
Japanese education is centralized under the direction of the Ministry of Education (MOE). For most of the postwar period, the MOE has controlled school administration, curriculum, pedagogy, and educational content in textbooks. The MOE oversees the administration of the appointed prefectural and municipal boards of education and superintendents. The MOE determines the educational budget, and subsidizes the prefectural board of education in order to provide equal quality education to all children throughout the nation.1
After the 1947 educational reform, the Japanese educational system was redesigned around a uniform 6-3-3-4 system (six years of elementary school, three years of middle school, three years of high school and four years of college).2 The academic year runs from April 1 to March 31.3 Beginning in April 2002, the school week is five days long and the academic year is 210 days long.4 However, 56 percent of private middle schools and 41 percent of private high schools planned to adhere to a six-day-a-week schedule for the 2002-3 school year (Asahi Shinbun (AS) March 5, 2002). Furthermore, according to a 2002 survey, 59 percent of the general public opposed the idea of a five-day school week. Respondents were also concerned about diminished educational achievement because the educational content had been reduced by 30 percent (AS July 23, 2002). In the 2004-5 school year, five public high schools in Tokyo had regular classes on Saturday, and for the 2005-6 school year, 17 public high schools in Tokyo plan to do so (AS December 18, 2004). In the 2004-5 school year, twenty prefectural administrations allowed public high schools to open supplementary classes on Saturday (AS January 12, 2005).
Primary and secondary schools follow a trimester system, with forty-day summer vacations and two-week winter and spring vacations. The MOE has recommended that the boards of education should allow more flexible summer vacations. After deregulation permitted some schools to replace the trimester system with a semester system, they introduced an autumn recess between semesters. In the 2004-5 school year, 9 percent of public elementary schools, 10 percent of public middle schools and 26 percent of public high schools had the semester system (AS January 31, 2005).
Almost all children from ages 6-15 receive uniform and compulsory public education. There was no grouping of elementary and middle school students according to their ability, because the public and teachers believe such grouping damages low-achieving children. However, in the 2002-3 school year, the MOE implemented a program of special education classes in English, mathematics, and science for advanced elementary and middle school students. This is to be done by adding one more teacher per school for advanced classes. In 2003, 74.2 percent of elementary schools and 66.9 percent of middle schools practiced grouping students based on their educational achievements (AS August 18, 2001; AS February 24, 2004).
Almost all 15-year-olds are admitted to academically stratified high schools on the basis of their performance on written examinations. In 2003, 97.3 percent of 15-year-olds were enrolled in high school and are expected to graduate with only a 2.3 percent rate of dropouts. Higher education has become universal education, as 63.5 percent of high school graduates went on to postsecondary schools (44.6% to colleges and 18.9% to specialized training colleges) (Monbukagakushō 2004a).
Furthermore, every ten years the MOE issues the Course of Study, a guide for curriculum and pedagogy. The Course of Study stipulates the purpose of education, the content, pedagogy, and the number of course hours for each subject. Since 1958, the MOE has required that all public schools and teachers follow the Course of Study. Moreover, the MOE screens the content of textbooks through the textbook authorization system in order to correct technical and factual errors, as well as “biased” opinions.
School districts are drawn on the basis of municipal and prefectural jurisdictional lines. Each prefecture’s board of education hires public teachers, supervises high school education, and oversees the municipal boards of education. The municipal boards of education are in charge of elementary and middle schools. In 1956, the MOE had replaced elected boards of education with appointed boards of education and prefectural superintendents that it had approved. This happened because the MOE wanted to oust the board members who were more sympathetic to the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU). Since then, governors and mayors have appointed the five members of the prefectural and municipal boards of education for four-year tenure with the agreement of the prefectural and municipal assemblies, and the approval of the appointments by the MOE. The appointed board members choose both the superintendent and the chairperson. The approval of superintendents by the MOE was abolished in 1999.
Local public educational expenditures in the 2002-3 school year amounted to 18.1 trillion yen, including 81.2 percent for school education, 12.9 percent for social education, and 5.9 percent for educational administration. The budgets were derived from the prefectural administration (44.4%), the local administration (33.2%), the national administration (18.1%), local bonds (4.1%) and donations (0.2%). The expense per student in the 2002-3 school year was 738,624 yen per preschooler, 923,566 yen per elementary school student, 1,027,678 yen per middle school student, 9,107,237 yen per special school student, and 1,157,366 yen per high school student. The government spent nine times more money for students in special schools, with nine million yen per student than those in regular schools (Monbukagakushō 2004f). In 1970, the Japanese government started subsidizing private schools and colleges. Subsidies to private colleges were about 30 percent of revenues in the early 1980s, but decreased to 12.2 percent in 2000 (Monbukagakushō 2004b:66).
The educational expenses for primary and secondary education are very affordable unless the parents choose to send their child to private schools or pay for private tutoring. Public elementary and middle schools are free, and the tuition for public high schools is relatively inexpensive. However, because of the economic recession, 1,150,000, one out of ten elementary and middle school students received financial aids from the municipal administration to cover expenses for school supplies, lunches and field trips in the 2002-3 school year (AS September 4, 2003). According to a 2000 survey on educational expenses, the average family spends 5,061,788 yen to pay for one child’s education from public preschool through public high school; these expenses include the costs of tuition, school lunches, cram schools, tutoring, books, supplies, and other things related to education. It costs 7,187,556 yen for a child who attends private preschool, public elementary and middle schools, and private high school (Monbukagakushō 2002c).
In contrast, college education is quite expensive. Although there are some scholarships and student loans, most parents bear the full costs of their children’s college expenses. In the 2002-3 school year, college students spent an average of 2.02 million yen a year for their educational and living expenses. Those who attended public colleges and commuted from home spent an average of 1.13 million yen a year, while those who attended private colleges and rented an apartment spent an average of 2.61 million yen (Monbukagakushō 2004d). Those who rented an apartment received an average of 132,500 yen a month, consisting of money from their family (85,700 yen), part-time jobs (22,500 yen) and scholarships (20,100 yen) in 2004 (AS January 24, 2005). In 2004, 34 percent of college students who rented an apartment received scholarships, 50,000 yen to 70,000 (53%), 70,000 to 100,000 (11%), and 100,000 yen or more (11%) (AS January 24, 2005).
Based on the 1987 report by the National Council on Educational Reform (NCER) (Rinkyōshin), large-scale educational reforms for deregulation, diversification, and individualization were implemented. In 1984, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone formed a provisional advisory body, the Rinkyōshin, consisting of industrialists and conservative scholars, in order to instill more “moral” and “patriotic” values into Japanese students. In 1987, in a final report,5 the Rinkyōshin recommended the deregulation of the school system; the diversification of curriculum; changes in the examination system; the promotion of higher education; the development of lifelong education; the promotion of scientific research, information technology and sports; and the internationalization of education (Monbushō 1989). In 1987, the MOE created the Headquarters for the Implementation of Educational Reform in order to enforce policies based on the recommendation of the Rinkyōshin.
Leftist and liberal scholars, in conjunction with the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU), who were not members of the Rinkyōshin, opposed the neo-conservative proposals of the Rinkyōshin. They predicted that the emphasis on moral education and national identity would trigger a revival of Japanese nationalism and militarism. They further argued that the purpose of deregulation and privatization was to produce human capital for the nation’s economic growth, not to develop democracy and the rights of the child (Horio 1988:365; Lincicome 1993:128; Schoppa 1991b:61-62). However, the JTU failed to rally teachers against the recommendations of the Rinkyōshin.
Since 1993, the MOE has promoted the establishment of credit-based comprehensive high schools (sōgō kōkō), which are similar to public high schools in the United States. The students can choose elective classes to develop their skills and abilities, can transfer credits from other schools, and even graduate ahead of schedule. In addition, the MOE recommended in 1997 that high schools admit students on the basis of: 1) motivation; 2) sports and cultural club activities; 3) volunteer service; 4) recommendations from community leaders; 5) teachers’ recommendations; 6) interviews; and 7) essays, compositions and other practical skills (Sōmuchō 1998:320-321). Since 1998, the MOE has established six-year secondary schools in order to ease high school “examination hell” through a six-year program.
For more than a decade, the teacher recruitment process has been deregulated, so that prefectural boards of education can hire special instructors who do not have teaching certificates. New teachers are expected to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to school culture. In 1993, the MOE established the team-teaching system in order to pay closer attention to the needs of individual students, and to reduce teachers’ heavy workloads. Beginning in 1995, school counselors have also been deployed to schools in order to handle increasing school-related problems, such as bullying and school refusal syndrome.
Since 1993, the MOE has promoted cooperation between schools and communities, and has made school facilities available for community activities. School-initiated volunteer activities include visiting nursing homes or institutions for disabled people, and cleaning public places. Volunteer activities are also part of integrated study courses. In recent years, the government has also supported human rights education (jinken kyōiku) to teach students about minority cultures and history.
In its 1991 report, the College Council recommended curricular reforms, the introduction of an independent evaluation system, and the expansion of graduate schools. Many colleges started to create syllabi, evaluation forms, and more teaching and research assistants, and to admit more nontraditional and transfer students, similar to colleges in the United States. Since 1997, students who excel at mathematics and physics can skip a grade, and enter college one year earlier. As of 2003, one national university and one private university admit 17-year-olds. Furthermore, since April 2004, all 89 national universities and junior colleges became an independent administrative corporation (gyōsei hōjin) to be independent from the government.
The National Commission on Educational Reform (Kyōiku kaikaku kokumin kaigi), commissioned by Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi, submitted its final report in December 2000. The report underscored the need for further deregulation, diversity, and individuality. It emphasized home education, moral education, volunteer activities, college education, and cooperation between the community and parents. It proposed grouping primary and secondary school students according to the learning level, the use of learning achievement tests in high schools, the promotion of six-year secondary schools, the requirement of volunteer activities, an evaluation system for teachers, and the revision of the Fundamental Law of Education (Kyōiku Kaikaku 2000). The MOE developed the Educational Reform Plan for the 21st Century (also known as The Rainbow Plan) based on the final report of the National Commission on Educational Reform.
Critics of the proposed reform argue that school choice, six-year secondary schools, ability grouping, and the abolition of age restrictions for college admission are elitist ideas, and that they reinforce educational competition and social stratification among students (Fujita 2001; Yoneyama 2002).
Concerned with the drastic reduction of academic content, many educators are worried about the lowering educational achievement of children, especially in mathematics and science. Responding to critics, the MOE stated that the 1998 Course of Study is based on a “minimum standard” so that teachers may teach higher-level materials. The MOE plans to recognize about 10 percent of materials, at a higher level than the contents of the 1998 Course of Study in the 2005-6 textbooks (AS January 3, 2004). The MOE also published reference materials along with additional materials for teachers teaching elementary and middle school mathematics and science in order to demonstrate methods of teaching advanced materials. The Central Education Committee suggested that the MOE revise the 1998 Course of Study to encourage teachers to go beyond the Course of Study if students understood the materials. In hopes of keeping academic expectations high, public schools have compensated for the reduction of class hours by shortening school events and providing a summer session. Parents and community leaders hold Saturday classes in order to maintain high academic standards.
The idea of “integrated study” (sōgōtekina gakushū no jikan) was the brainchild of the reform. Integrated study has been allotted three to four unit hours a week for third to sixth graders, two to three unit hours for middle school students, and three to four unit hours for high school students. Each school has the right to determine what and how to teach integrated study, whose topics include international issues, information science, environmental issues, social welfare, and health. As pedagogy for integrated study, the MOE has recommended debates, volunteer activities, surveys and experiments.
Furthermore, many more elective courses are now available for middle and high school students. Each school can set the length of each class, such as 75 minutes for laboratory experiments, and 25 minutes for English classes rather than the customary 45 minutes hour-units for elementary school and 50 minute hour-units for middle schools. For the 2001-2 school year, the MOE planned to hire 22,500 elementary and middle school teachers in the next five years to reduce the mandated class size of 40 students, and create smaller groups of 20 students for academic subjects (Monbukagakushō 2003b:126-127).
In 2000, the Council on Curriculum proposed a National Scholastic Aptitude Test (gakute) for elementary, middle, and high school students, to begin in 2003. As of April 2004, more than 80 percent of the prefectural Boards of Education enforce a National Scholastic Aptitude Test (AS June 13, 2004).
Since April 2000, school committees can be established at the request of the principal, with recognition from the Board of Education. For the first time, parents and community residents have a say in the management of schools. It is interesting to note that in 2000, one school was able to reduce the percentage of students who believed that “classes are difficult” from 30 percent to less than 10 percent within six months of introducing teacher evaluations and open classes for members of the community (Nihon Keizai 2001:56). In addition, the MOE plans to deploy 50,000 teachers’ aides and school support volunteers in the three years beginning with the 2001-2 school year (Monbukagakushō 2003b:62-63). Furthermore, the MOE plans to deregulate the 6-3 elementary and middle school system so that the municipal administration can change it to a 4-3-2 system or a 5-4 system after the 2006-7 school year (AS August 11, 2004).
On June 8, 2001, 37-year-old Mamoru Takuma stormed into Ikeda elementary school, stabbed eight schoolchildren to death with a kitchen-knife and injured 15 others, including two teachers. In May 2003, the trial started in the Osaka District Court, and prosecutors demanded the death penalty. The death sentence was upheld after the defendant withdrew his appeal to the Osaka High Court in September 2003.
On June 8, 2003, the MOE apologized for not implementing the appropriate preventive measures, promised to compile a manual on crisis management, and agreed to pay the families of the eight murdered children a total of 400 million yen in damages. In addition, 24 school officials, including the principal of the Ikeda elementary school were punished for failing to prevent the disaster.
After the incident, the boards of education and schools sought to make educational institutions safer. Although Japanese schools had been considered quite safe before the June 2001 killings, schools started to check school visitors, installed surveillance cameras, and taught faculty and staff about emergency measure. The city of Toyonaka, near the Ikeda elementary school dispatched a security guard to all elementary schools in the city. The guards watch school gates and patrol the schools from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Schools close their gates and screen visitors before allowing them to step onto school property (AS June 7, 2003). By the end of 2003, 45 percent of schools had a security system such as surveillance cameras, 33 percent had given students buzzers for the prevention of crimes, and 8 percent had security guards (AS January 15, 2005). On February 14, 2005, a 17-year-old boy entered his former elementary school and killed a teacher and wounded another teacher and one dietician with a knife. Responding to the incident, the Board of Education of the Kōtō District of Tokyo arranged regular police patrols at all preschools, elementary schools and middle schools in the district (AS February 17, 2005).
[Back to the top]
The government administers the educational system in order to produce educated and responsible citizens. First, schools transmit knowledge, and develop the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social skills of students. Secondly, schools train students to become responsible citizens. The Japanese government regards the human capital of the Japanese people as the nation’s most valuable natural resource.
Stratification theory argues that the social backgrounds of parents are the main determinant of their children’s educational success. Therefore, schools seem to select, certify, and allocate students to the social class of their origin. Thus, schools “reproduce” social stratification rather than promote educational equity (Rubinson and Browne 1994:585). The differences in academic achievement appear in as early as the third and fourth grades, when some children start to fall behind their peers. Quantitative analyses support “stratification/reproduction theory,” and confirm that the educational level, occupation, and household income of the parents significantly affect their children’s educational attainment. However, the extent to which family backgrounds affect children’s educational attainment remains to open to question (e.g., Ishida 1993; Treiman and Yamaguchi 1993; Aramaki 2000; Nakanishi 2000).
According to a 1995 Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM) survey, the father’s educational attainment and occupational status significantly correlate with the educational attainment of his children. Students at elite high schools are more likely to have fathers who are/were in professional or managerial positions6 (Nakanishi 2000). For more than a century, the fathers of college students have been more likely to be found in professional and managerial positions than any other occupation. Since 1945, fathers in professional and managerial positions have sent their sons to prestigious universities more than three times as often as those in other occupations (Kariya 1995:67). According to the 1995 survey, among those who were born in 1965-1975, more than 70 percent of college students had fathers who were professionals and in managerial positions (Aramaki 2000:23). In 1990, 47 percent of the students in national universities came from the top 20 percent household income bracket, 27 percent from the second highest, 12 percent from the third highest, 8 percent from the fourth, and 6 percent from the fifth (LeTendre et al. 1998:291). As a result, higher education has contributed to the reproduction of social stratification.
Highly educated parents with high occupational status and high incomes tend to provide their children with more “cultural capital” or habitus, which is transmitted from parents to children through family investment in children’s education and socialization (Bourdieu 1986). Leading studies confirm that the educational attainment of the parents has a greater effect than income when it comes to the academic success of their children (Kariya 1995:83). Highly educated parents are more likely to have high expectations and aspirations for children’s education, teach their children the importance of education, spend more time helping them with their schoolwork, arrange for private lessons, and provide a supportive learning environment.
A 1995 survey of parents of fourth to ninth graders showed that 62 percent of children whose fathers were college graduates wanted to attend college, while only 26 percent of children whose fathers were middle school graduates had the same intention (Sōmuchō 1996:169). In 1990, families in the lowest income quintile spent 4,225 yen a year for their children’s education, while families in the highest income quintile spent 26,027 yen (LeTendre et al. 1998:292). According to the 1995 SSM survey, almost 70 percent of people in their 20s whose fathers were professionals and in managerial positions took private lessons (juku, tutors, and/or correspondence studies), while less than 30 percent of those in their 20s whose fathers were engaged in agriculture took them (Aramaki 2000:27).
Besides the social backgrounds of students, ethnographic studies prove that the teaching skills and attitudes of instructors also affect children’s educational achievement (Takeuchi 1995:31-39; Heyns 1986:317-319). Teachers can be mentors for children who lack “cultural capital” by teaching them to value education, inspiring them to study hard, and helping their schoolwork. Remedial education, such as after-school lessons for those who fall behind helps the lower-achieving children to improve. Such affirmative action programs are necessary to offer disadvantaged children a better future.
[Back to the top]
The term, “educational credential society” (gakureki shakai) became popular in the 1960s. During this period of high economic growth (1953-1973), a large number of farmer’s sons obtained the high school and college degrees, and enjoyed upward mobility into white-collar jobs through their educational credentials. Educational credentials became an indicator of a “social birth,” a lifetime achievement (Kariya 1995:109). By the mid-1960s, the majority of parents wanted their children to attend college in order to obtain a better educational credential for their future occupation (Kondō 2000:6).
All high schools and colleges are academically stratified, and therefore graduation from a particular school is a measure of academic achievement. Organizations and companies use educational credentials to evaluate the knowledge and potential of job seekers. Educational credentials on job applications of new graduates “signal” to employers how smart they are at school without generating further informational costs during the recruitment (Rosenbaum et al. 1990:270-280). Furthermore, people may use educational credentials to evaluate the cognitive quality in informal occasions.
The Japanese believes that any child can achieve upward social mobility, if he or she succeeds in earning high educational credentials. Therefore, teachers and parents urge children to attend better high schools and better colleges in order to obtain better jobs in the future. The competition to obtain better educational credentials through admission into better high schools and colleges is so fierce that it is known as “examination hell.” The entrance examination for high school admission is the first formal sorting system for better future lives (better pay and higher occupational status) for almost all 15-year-olds. Entering a good academic high school provides students with a fast track to entering a good college. Students are encouraged at school and home to study hard and gain high scores on the examinations. The return match for those who failed the first “tournament” (Rosenbaum 1976) is provided at college entrance examinations. However, in most cases, those who attend lower-ranked high schools find it harder to gain admission to high-ranked colleges and universities.
The regression analysis of educational attainment and labor wages confirms the human capital theory that investment of time and money in education can increase the probability of earning higher salaries and enjoying higher occupational status because employers use educational credentials to evaluate applicants’ potential and productivity. According to the 1995 SSM survey, each additional year of education increases a person’s income by 8.5 percent. Those who work in larger corporations for longer years earn more raises than those who do not. Also, people in managerial positions, sales, and manufacturing gain more income increases based on the number of years spent on education than those in professional and clerical jobs (Yano and Shima 2000:117-120).
However, the critics of the human capital theory argue that the job market is affected not only by educational credentials but also by social and institutional networks, and that job-related knowledge and technology can be learned on the job (Center 1998). Collins argues in Credential Society, that “schooling is very inefficient as a means of training for work skills” (Collins 1979:21).
Educational credentials have less effect on promotions in the later stages of a person’s career than they do on recruitment and entry-level training. The analysis of the 1993 employment records of college graduates in a large financial and insurance company demonstrates that college credentials only have a small correlation with promotions to positions such as the department chief (buchō) twenty years after college graduation. At that stage, the promotion is more likely to be determined through job performance and productivity (Ishida, Spilerman and Su 1997:874, 879). It is important to note that the correlation of education and income is inconsistent among women because, according to the 1995 SSM survey, only 20 percent of married women work full-time (Seiyama 2000:13-14).
[Back to the top]
Japanese society, largely illiterate at the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1867) had become one of the most literate societies in the world by the end of the Edo period.7 Local feudal lords established fief schools for samurai, “Japanese warriors” and thus every samurai was literate. Ordinary farmers, craftsmen, and merchants sent their children to the terakoya, “temple schools” for basic knowledge, writing, reading, and counting. By the end of the Edo period, the attendance was high in urban areas such as in Edo (86%), though it was much lower in isolated rural areas. The percentages of male and female attendance in terakoya were 79 percent and 21 percent, respectively (Passin 1965:44-47).
The Meiji government (1868-1912) established a bilateral system of education: compulsory primary education for the masses, and secondary and higher education for the elite. The 1872 School Ordinance mandated a compulsory four-year elementary school system (expanded to six years in 1907) for all children from the ages of 6-14 in order to produce a “rich county with a strong army” that would equal the Western countries. By 1875, 25,000 elementary schools were open nationwide, and 35 percent of children between the ages of 6-14 (41% of boys and 18% of girls) were enrolled, at the attendance rate of 74 percent (Tokyo Shoseki 2000:197; Hamashima Shoten 2000:128).8 The enrollment rate of elementary students rose to 49.5 percent in 1885, 61.2 percent in 1895, and by 1910 it was 98.1 percent (Kōdansha 1999:434). Poverty and gender affected the enrollment rates in elementary schools. By 1918, universal enrollment in elementary schools finally reached girls and the children from the urban lower classes (Okado 2000:234).
Only a small portion of elementary school graduates from the upper and middle class continued on to five-year academic secondary schools for boys or five-year secondary schools for girls; the majority entered the labor force or to two-year higher elementary schools. When the enrollment of elementary schools approached 100 percent in 1915, 11 percent of male students and 5 percent of female students entered secondary school (Aramaki 2000:16).
In 1925 in Fukui prefecture, 6.4 percent of male students and 10 percent of female students went on to five-year secondary schools, and 0.4 percent of male students and 0.7 percent of female students went to normal schools. More than half of all male students (52.4%) and one-third of all female students (33.6%) went on to a two-year higher elementary school, 3.6 percent of male students went on to part-time vocational schools, and 2.2 percent of male students and 4.8 percent of female students went to miscellaneous schools.
On the other hand, 22.5 percent of male students entered the family businesses, including agriculture and forestry (15.0%) and 11.8 percent went to work in manufacturing (2.1%), sales (5.9%) and apprenticeships (2.1%). One-third of female students (33.2%) worked in family businesses, such as agriculture and forestry (21.5%), while 16.5 percent went to work manufacturing (9.3%), sales (0.1%), apprenticeships (1.1%), domestic service (1.8%), and nursing or midwifery (0.6%) (Okado 2000:37).
After 1886, some elementary schools added six months to one year of supplementary night classes. In 1893-1894, supplementary vocational schools were established for graduates of elementary schools who did not go on to higher elementary schools or secondary schools. Supplementary vocational schools provided courses in reading, writing, accounting, and practical courses in agriculture, industry, and commerce. These schools had programs that ran for three years or less, and apprenticeships lasting six months to four years. By 1923, 1,024,774 students (72.9% boys) took courses from 8,299 teachers in 14,975 schools (Takano 1992:18, 38).
By the 1930s, approximately 20 percent of male students continued on to five-year secondary boys’ schools while 17 percent of female students continued on to five-year secondary girls’ schools to learn to become “good wives and wise mothers” (Aramaki 2000:16). The discrepancy between urban and rural educational norms is remarkable. As early as 1925, in Nagoya City, 57 percent of male students and 50 percent of female students went on to five-year secondary schools. Even among the graduates of one elementary school in Tokyo in 1936, students from the middle class were more likely to have better grades and go on to five-year secondary schools than students from the families of manufacturers, farmers, and small retailers, who were more likely to have lower grades and enroll in higher elementary schools or join the work force. Poverty forced many of these graduates to seek employment rather than further education (Okado 2000:42, 126-148).
Higher education in Japan during the prewar period was available only to the elite. In 1877, Tokyo University, the first Imperial University, was founded in order to catch up with European and American scholarship. By 1915, two percent of male students and 0.1 percent of female students went on to post-secondary education (Aramaki 2000:16). Then, under the College Ordinance of 1918, the status of “university” was granted to many other national, prefectural, municipal, and private professional schools. These schools were able to gain university status if they added preparatory courses for high school education (Osaki 1999:36-37). Options for higher education expanded and became available to more students. After graduating from five-year secondary schools, some students attended private three-year professional schools; others attended private three-year preparatory high schools and three-year colleges; and still others attended three-year preparatory high schools and three- to four-year imperial universities. By the 1930s, the enrollment rate in higher education had risen to about six percent for men and about one percent for women (Aramaki 2000:17).
Since the late 1880s, public education had been based on patriotism and Confucianism. The first Minister of Education, Mori Arinori, replaced comparatively liberal western-style education with nationalistic and Confucian education in the late 1880s. The 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education, the core of prewar education in Japan, emphasized Confucian principles, such as loyalty to the emperor, filial piety, and affection and trust among family and friends. In addition, three compulsory hours of ethics were taught to children each week in the 1890s (Gluck 1985:150).
In the early 1890s, the Imperial Photograph, the photograph of the emperor and empress, as well as the Imperial Rescript on Education were distributed and enshrined in each school’s Altar of the Imperial Family. On national holidays, the principal read the Rescript in front of the Imperial Photograph during the school ceremonies, and the entire school would salute the Photograph of Emperor and Empress. They would then sing the kimigayo, the national anthem, and other holiday songs for the emperor. The children learned to be in awe of the emperor through school ceremonies and regular visits to the school’s Altar of the Imperial Family. Beginning in 1904, the Ministry of Education emphasized the imperial view of history through nationalized textbooks in all primary schools. Many of the teachers who taught the militaristic and ultra-nationalistic wartime curriculum to students during World War II had been students in this imperialistic educational system from the 1890s (Ienaga 1978).
Beginning in the 1910s, victories in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) reinforced the imperial and nationalistic ideology. During the “Taishō Democracy” of the 1920s, progressive educators advocated child-centered education for middle class children in urban areas (Okado 2000:144-5). However, starting with the severe economic recession in the late 1920s, ultra-nationalists and military officers controlled the government. In the 1930s, militarist and ultra-nationalist ideologies pervaded the Japanese educational system.
[Back to the top]
In 1941, public elementary schools became “National People’s Schools” and took a central role in militaristic wartime education. All children were taught to be dedicated subjects of the emperor and to fight the war for the emperor. Nationalized textbooks, especially those on history and ethics, deified the emperor and glorified the Imperial Army and Navy. The 1940 National History for elementary school children referred to the Emperor Hirohito as a “Living God.” The 1934 History Textbook described the legend of the creation of the Japanese nation by the Sun Goddess, and the “first” Emperor Jinmu (Harada and Tokuyama 1988:111). This imperial “worship” continued until the end of World War II.
The 1943 Nation’s History for Elementary School included the first chapter, “Country of Gods” and concluded, “We have to study hard … to become good subjects, and to do our best for the sake of the Emperor” (Ishikawa 2000:104). The ethics textbook for second graders stated, “Japan, the Good Country, the Beautiful Country. The only Country in the World, the Country of God” (Tokutake 1995:33-34). By 1944, boys in higher elementary schools had two hours of compulsory military training a week, and students in third through sixth grades took “special classes” for training. Ueda National School launched “must-win education” in 1944, and children memorized the “Declaration of War,” and “The Rescript on Imperial Soldiers,” took military training, and cooperated with community organizations to support the war. Children recited, “Do not take the humiliation of being prisoners of war. You should rather die to avoid the humiliation of being prisoners of war…” in the “Instruction on War” (Toda 1997:163-168, 170-173). From 1941 to 1945 these “Little Nationalists” were taught to believe that the Emperor was a Living God, and to die for the Emperor and the country.
Schools and local communities cooperated in training children and youths to dedicate their lives to the Emperor and to the war effort. All male students in the third grade or above, except for secondary school students, and all working youths belonged to the Great Japan Youth Organization under the MOE from 1941 to 1945, when it was absorbed into the Great Japan Youth Units. In June 1942, 54,604 organizations had 14,215,000 children and youths (Yamanaka 1989:304, 420; Toda 1997:104-106). Students wrote letters and sent packages to soldiers, cleaned shrines and temples, worshipped, and saved money for war effort through school events.
Military training courses had been assigned to male students in five-year secondary schools since 1926, and in youth training centers since 1927. In 1926, youth training centers were established for working men between the ages of 16-20. The youth training centers provided 800 course hours for four years, including 400 hours of military training, 100 hours of ethics and civics, 200 hours of academic subjects, and 100 hours of vocational subjects. Public military training centers were annexed into elementary schools or supplementary vocational schools, and instructors for military training were elementary school teachers, supplementary vocational teachers, and military reservists. Those who completed the course in youth military training centers, like those who received military training in secondary male schools, were exempted from six months of military service. In 1926, 15,588 of these centers trained 891,555 students, and this number did not change substantially until 1934 (Takano 1992:76-77, 81, 83).
In 1935, youth military training centers and supplementary vocational schools were integrated into youth schools. After 1938, all young working men were required to enter youth schools. Youth schools had two-year general courses for those who did not attend higher elementary schools, and four- to five-year courses for those who graduated from higher elementary schools. The five-year courses for men included 350 hours of military training, 100 hours for ethics and civics, and 510 hours for general and vocational subjects. For female students, two-year general courses were offered to those who did not go to higher elementary schools, and two- or three-year courses were offered to those who graduated from higher elementary schools (Takano 1992:135, 138, 140, 162).
Most of the students in youth schools had been born in the Taishō era (1912-1926), and were drafted for the Asia-Pacific War. In 1938, 17,743 public and private youth schools taught approximately 2,210,000 students. In 1942, 2,910,000 students were taught in 21,272 youth schools (Takano 1992:188, 215).
As the war entered its devastating finale in 1945 and the country experienced labor shortages, all students from higher elementary schools through universities were required to work in factories and farms, under the 1944 Student Workers Ordinance. Many elementary school children in urban areas were relocated to rural areas with their teachers, far away from their families in bombed-out urban areas.
[Back to the top]
Immediately after World War II, the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Forces (SCAP) abolished the militaristic wartime education that had been based on the Imperial Rescript on Education. In 1945, the GHQ purged militaristic teachers, blackened out militaristic descriptions in textbooks, and suspended courses on ethics, history, and geography, which had taught ultra-nationalism and imperial-centered doctrine. The GHQ initiated a new “democratic” educational system, modeled on the American school system. The U.S. Education Mission, consisting of 27 “progressive” American educators, stayed in Japan for less than a month, and submitted a report, which became the blueprint for postwar educational reform in 1947 (Kawase 1999:193).
The Civil Information and Education Section (CI&E) of the GHQ implemented a decentralized and democratic education system based on the report, in cooperation with the MOE. The GHQ entrusted the administration of education to local governments, as in the United States, and introduced elected boards of education in each prefecture in 1948 (Marshall 1994:149).
In 1947 the government enacted two laws: the Fundamental Law of Education and the School Education Law, both of which emphasized egalitarianism and educational autonomy. The single 6-3-3-4 system of education replaced the prewar dual (elite and popular) educational system, and required all children to attend middle school. Wartime “National People’s Schools” became six-year elementary schools. Two-year higher elementary schools and youth schools became three-year middle schools, while five-year secondary schools became high schools. Two- and three-year professional schools, preparatory high schools, normal schools, and all other schools became four-year colleges.
The six years of compulsory education were extended to nine years of elementary and middle school education. Almost all gender-segregated schools became coeducational. High schools in small districts, modeled on public high schools in the United States, were introduced by the GHQ. About half of all prefectures adopted the model of small school districts with one high school, and 42 percent of high schools were high schools of small school districts. In addition, 63 percent of high schools became coeducational (Aramaki 2000:24). The rate of high school enrollment was 42.5 percent in 1950, and rose to 51.5 percent in 1955 (Monbukagakushō 2001a:27).
Prewar universities (49 universities including 28 private universities) were open to less than five percent of college-aged youths, and produced the elites of the nation. In 1949, the GHQ revolutionized the system of higher education by introducing a uniform four-year college system. All two- and three-year professional schools, preparatory high schools, and normal schools were upgraded into four-year universities under the order of the Bureau of Civil Information and Education of the GHQ.
At least one national university was established in each prefecture, modeled on state universities in the United States. More than two hundred universities were established throughout Japan. Professional schools, which did not meet the requirements to become universities, became junior colleges, whose system was formally recognized in 1964. By 1951, the 49 colleges and 452 professional, high, and normal schools of the prewar educational system were transformed into 203 colleges and 180 junior colleges. The government had strong authority over the approval of the establishment of private colleges. General courses, unit credits, professional graduate schools, and accreditation, all modeled on higher education in the United States, were introduced into Japanese higher education (Amano 1996:13, 83; Kawai 1960:203; Osaki 1999:2, 210-211).
According to the 1947 and 1951 Courses of Study, the MOE emphasized progressive child-centered education. The principles of American progressive education emphasized naturalism and pragmatism. Teachers help children learn from their own experiences, without a fixed program. Social studies replaced geography, history, and ethics, and emphasized social experiences from daily life and problem-solving methods. Progressive scholars and educators, as well as the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU) praised this pedagogy. However, critics argued that child-centered education aggravated the juvenile delinquency of the “après la guerre generation” (Kawai 1960:196-197).
After Japan regained its independence in 1952, the country enjoyed a period of rapid economic growth that lasted until the first oil shock of 1973. Average economic growth during the 1960s was 8.0 percent per annum, sometimes reaching as high as 10.6 percent (Kōdansha 1999:300). As the number of laborers in the manufacturing and service industries increased at the expense of farming, fishery and forestry, farmers’ sons streamed into urban areas after graduating from middle or high schools, and became salaried employees. The government designed an educational plan to produce more educated and qualified laborers, responding to requests from industry, and the increasing number of school-age baby boomers.
Education proved a vehicle for upward social mobility for most young people. In 1950, almost half of all Japanese people were engaged in primary industries (Aramaki 2000:17), and almost 80 percent of the workforce was made up of elementary school graduates (Kondō 2000:4). In 1950, among 1.59 million middle school graduates, 720,000 proceeded to high school, while 720,000 joined the workforce (Kariya 2000:1). However, by the mid-1970s, more than 90 percent of 15-year-olds attended high school, and more than one-third of 18-year-olds attended four-year colleges or junior colleges.
The comprehensive high schools introduced by the GHQ never became popular in Japan. By 1957, only eight prefectures had the small school district system for high schools. By 1967, only Kyoto prefecture implemented this system, which was abolished in 1983. By 1963, the MOE acknowledged the use of entrance examinations for high school admission (Aramaki 2000:25). All high schools were academically stratified, and the admission into the elite high schools became highly competitive. Many children were pushed to study hard to enter high-ranked high schools and colleges. “Examination hell” was a popular reference to the competitive entrance examinations and “education mama” were women who had high hopes for the academic prospects of their children.
The high school enrollment rate nearly doubled from 51.5 percent in 1955 to 91.9 percent in 1975 (Monbukagakushō 2001a:27). By the mid-1970s, the high school enrollment rate of children whose fathers were manual laborers or farmers had almost caught up with that of children whose fathers were professionals or in managerial positions (Aramaki 2000:19). In 1965, the number of high school graduates who joined the workforce exceeded that of middle school graduates who joined the workforce (Ishida 2000:114). It was only after the 1960s that the majority of 15-year-olds stayed in schools.
College enrollment rates also rose from 10.1 percent in 1955 to 38.4 percent in 1975 (Monbukagakushō 2001a:28). From 1960 to 1968, the number of college entrants increased eight-fold, because of growing number of private colleges. In just eight years, 127 private colleges and 188 private junior colleges were built, though only three national universities were founded (Osaki 1999:220). Since 1970, the MOE has subsidized private colleges. By 1975, 80 percent of colleges were private (Amano 1998:15). College education accounted for upward social mobility, and helped many college graduates form a new middle-class of white-collar salaried workers in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1957, the government launched a “manpower plan” to develop 8,000 more science and engineering students by 1960, and 20,000 more students overall by 1964 (Osaki 1999:212-214). In 1976, specialized training colleges (senshū gakkō) were reclassified as accredited formal schools from “miscellaneous schools.”
When many baby boomers (born between 1947-1949) became 18 years old in the mid-1960s, many universities and colleges accepted more students than their allowable quotas, and the ratio of students to teachers became too large. That caused dissatisfaction among the students, and student riots occurred nationwide in the late 1960s. The student movements, starting from demands for lower tuition, better instruction, and more student participation in college management eventually became increasingly political, and anti-establishment forces and were led by radical Trotskyite students (Steinhoff 1984; Motohashi 1985). After campus disturbances subsided in the 1970s, some universities reduced class sizes and reformed the curriculum. However, little has changed in the basic structure of college education.
The enrollment rate of high schools and colleges has been stabilized during the slow economic growth following the mid-1970s. High school enrollment increased five percent from 91.9 percent in 1975 to 97.0 percent in 2000, while college enrollment increased from 38.4 percent in 1975 to 49.1 percent in 2000 (Monbukagakushō 2001a:27-28).9 Since the 1990s, many universities and colleges have admitted non-traditional students, partly because of the difficulty recruiting high school graduates due to the ever-decreasing number of children in Japan.
[Back to the top]
The United States, whose students perform less well than their counterparts in many other developed countries, has lately returned to an insistence upon the “basics,” and the accountability of teachers and schools for academic performance of the students. In contrast, Japan has lowered the academic requirements since April 2002, and reinforces the creativity and individuality of students by offering more elective courses, after reconsidering the drawbacks of memorization and rote learning.10
Each state of the United States administers its public schools. Elected municipal school boards set policies and budgets, and approve the hiring and promotion of teachers and administrators. In contrast, in Japan, the Ministry of Education (MOE) oversees school administration, curriculum, pedagogy, and educational content in textbooks. Recently, the MOE has begun to delegate more decision-making powers to prefectural and municipal boards of education and schools in the name of education diversification.
The American educational system is based on uniform primary and secondary education, though each state decides the age limit for compulsory education. Public education generally requires five years of elementary school education (grades 1-5), three years of middle school education (grades 6-8), and four years of high school education (grades 9-12). Since the late 1960s, middle schools11 have gained popularity, and replaced junior high schools.
About 11 percent of students attended private schools, such as parochial schools and preparatory schools in 2002. In 2001-02, 72.5 percent of 17-year-olds graduated from high school. The high school dropout rate among 16- to 24-year-olds for 2001 was 11 percent (NCES 2003a).
In 2001, among 16- to 24-year olds who graduated from high school or completed a General Educational Development (GED) during the preceding 12 months, 61.7 percent enrolled higher education, either in a two-year or a four-year college. Between 21 and 24 percent of college students attended private colleges and universities between 1992 and 2002 (NCES 2003a). Among students who were in eighth grade in 1988, by 2000, 30 percent had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, while 47 percent finished some college credits not enough for a bachelor’s degree. Also, among the students enrolled in four-year colleges in 1995-1996, 63 percent had received a bachelor’s degree by June 2001, and five percent received an associate’s degree from two-year colleges, or other certificate below the bachelor’s degree. Twelve percent were still studying for their degree, two percent were studying at less-than-4-year institution, and 18 percent dropped out (NCES 2003b). In 2001, 84 percent of people 25 years old and over had completed high school and 26 percent had completed at least four years of college. Furthermore, six percent held a master’s degree, more than one percent held a law or medical degree, and one percent held a doctoral degree. In 1999, 33.2 of 100 persons of graduation age received bachelor’s degrees in the United States, while 29.0 of 100 persons received bachelor’s degree in Japan (NCES 2003a).
Though not mandatory, preschool education is almost universal in both countries. In the United States, in 2001, 38.6 percent of three-year-olds, 66.4 percent of four-year-olds, and 86.7 percent of five-year-olds were enrolled in preschool, nursery school, Head Start and kindergarten (NCES 2003a). In Japan, more than 70 percent of three-year-olds, more than 80 percent of four-year-olds, and more than 90 percent of five-year-olds attended either preschools/kindergartens (yōchien) or nursery schools (hoikuen) (Monbushō 1999b:270).
Japan has had much longer school days than the United States, though the difference has been shortened. In the United States, most public schools are required to be in session 180 days a year, generally from September to June, with a three-month summer vacation. In 1997-1998, 51 percent of elementary schools and 66 percent of secondary schools provided summer programs (DOE 2000b). Recently, many schools have switched to “year-round” programs that have three-week vacations after each quarter, in order to promote higher educational achievement. In Japan, the school year had been gradually reduced to 210 days, in accordance with the five-day school week from April 2002.
The U.S. government spent 5.2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education in 1999; the Japanese government spent 3.6 percent (NCES 2003a). In the United States, public schools are free, and in 2001-02 the educational expenditure per student amounted to $7,524 (NCES 2003a). In 1999-2000, the state (49.5%) and the local school district (43.2%) paid for most educational expenditures with small federal subsidies (7.3%) (NCES 2003a). In the United States, the public education expenditures per student in 1999 were $6,582 in primary education, $8,157 in secondary education, and $19,220 in higher education, while in Japan, comparable figures were $5,240, $6,039 and $10,278 (NCES 2003a).
Many school districts are funded by property or other local taxes. Therefore, the amount that a city or town spends on its students depends on the local tax base. Poorer school districts spent less money per student than those in affluent suburbs. However, to compensate for this inequity, metropolitan school districts receive more state and federal subsidies. In Japan, the government subsidizes public elementary, middle and high schools, and high school tuition is inexpensive.
In the United States, 11 percent of students attended private schools in 2002 (NCES 2003a). In addition, more than one million students are home-schooled (TIME September 11, 2000). The issue of school choice has entered the political agenda. In 1999, 24 percent of students in grades 3-12 attended either public or private schools chosen by their parents, not their assigned neighborhood schools (NCES 2001b). Through school choice, parents can influence the quality of education for their children, and tend to be more satisfied with and interested in their children’s schooling. School choice has led to schools competing for students by improving their programs (Fuller et al. 1996:11-12). In 1996, 69 percent of the public supported school choice, and 44 percent even favored choosing a private school over public schools (NCES 2001b).
School choice, including the creation of magnet schools and charter schools is popular among parents of all income levels. Many middle-class parents can choose their city, town, or suburb of residency based on the quality of the local public schools. However, many low-income residents in inner cities or rural areas have restricted educational choices.
Magnet schools and programs can take students beyond their assigned school districts. In 2001, 1.5 million students were enrolled in over 5,200 magnet schools (DOE 2002). The principles of magnet schools include parental choice, competition, and institutional autonomy. Students have a variety of programs that both parents and students have interest in, such as biotechnology, and fine arts. These schools offer innovative pedagogies such as open classrooms, individualized education, and accelerated learning (Blank et al. 1996:161). Magnet schools have grown in popularity because they typically have larger budgets with more experienced teachers, and can help students make greater academic progress. More than 90 percent of magnet schools in 173 districts have waiting lists (Los Angeles Times September 8, 1999). Most magnet schools choose students by lottery, and one-third of these schools use some criteria for student selection (Blank et al. 1996:154-155).
One of main purposes of magnet schools is to promote desegregation. The first magnet schools appeared in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled that northern cities, like many southern schools, had to desegregate (Fuller et al. 1996:5). In 1975, the court recognized the magnet school system as a voluntary desegregation strategy, and since 1976 the federal government has financially supported them. The number of magnet schools has increased rapidly in large urban school districts, which primarily serve minority and low-income students. Magnet schools serve as incentive for parents to keep their children in the public school system (Blank et al. 1996:155-159). The ethnic composition of magnet schools is usually representative of their communities.
Since 1992, charter schools have been public schools created through a contract with a state agency or a local school board. Charter schools administer themselves, and create their own curricula, but must achieve the goals set out in the charter, such as the improvement of student performance, within a specific time. Seventy percent of charter schools are newly created schools, and eleven states out of the 36 with charter school laws allow private schools to convert to charter schools. Since the first charter school opened in 1992, nearly four percent have closed (DOE 2000a).
In 1999, there were 1,605 charter schools with more than 250,000 students. In 1998-1999, charter schools taught 0.8 percent of all public school students in the 27 states with charter schools. Most charter schools are small schools with an average of 137 students. The median ratio of students to teachers is 16:1, compared with 17.2:1 in all public schools. In 1997-1998, the ratio of white students in charter schools (48%) was lower than that in public schools (59%). Most charter schools mention limited resource as a major problem. Charter schools are so popular that 70 percent have waiting lists (DOE 2000a). However, according to a 2000 poll, half of the respondents had never heard or read about charter schools. When they were informed about charter schools, 47 percent opposed the idea while 42 percent approved (Rose and Gallup 2000).
In Japan, the government subsidizes private schools whose tuitions at the high school level are about three times as expensive as that of public schools. About one-quarter of high school students are enrolled in private high schools of varying levels of academic quality. Private middle schools emphasize academic achievement and preparation for students to enter prestigious colleges, and have gained popularity, particularly in metropolitan areas. Almost one-fourth of elementary school graduates attend private middle schools in Tokyo, though 95 percent of middle school students in the nation attend public schools. Furthermore, since September 2004, the local governments can establish “community schools,” recommended by the National Commission on Educational Reform. Principals appoint a management team and teachers, and the school conference established by the local government monitor school management and results (Kokumin Kyōiku 2000; AS February 28, 2005).
[Back to the top]
Japanese primary and secondary schools have produced a workforce with solid knowledge and a strong work ethic. There are many reasons for this success: longer school days, a uniformly high standard of curriculum, excellent teachers, active parental involvement in education, and respect for education. During the 1980s and the early 1990s, foreign scholars and journalists praised Japanese education for producing an educated and industrious workforce for economic and technological success.
The Japanese primary and secondary school education has been successful in producing a generation with one of the highest level of academic achievement in mathematics and science in the world. In 1964, the first international study of achievement in mathematics for 13 year-olds and 18 year-olds discovered that Japanese students scored the highest. International studies of science achievement among 10 and 14 year-olds in 1970-1971, and those of mathematics achievements for 13-year-olds in the early 1980s show that Japanese students again scored highest (Lynn 1988:4, 15-16).
The 2003 survey by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 2003) found that Japanese eighth graders ranked fifth of 46 countries in mathematics and sixth in science, while American eighth graders ranked fifteenth in mathematics and ninth in science. Also, Japanese fourth graders came in third of 25 countries in mathematics and third in science while American fourth graders ranked twelfth in mathematics and sixth in science (AS December 15, 2004). In addition, Japan enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Almost 100 percent of children are enrolled in elementary school, and the illiteracy rate among children is almost zero.
However, Japanese people have a reputation for being less creative and individualistic because of the emphasis on memorization and rote learning in education. The current reform focuses on developing students’ creativity and individuality. Local control, elective courses, comprehensive high schools, volunteerism, and community involvement are key elements of American education. On the other hand, American schools concentrate on basic knowledge, demanding the curricula and testing that have been the foundation of Japanese education.
Concerned with the deterioration of academic performance, conservative educators gained prominence in the 1980s. The 1983 reform report, A Nation at Risk by the National Commission on Excellence in Education recommended a program of “New Basics,” a required core curriculum. The Commission criticized the extensive “cafeteria-style curriculum” in high schools as the main cause of declining academic achievement and SAT scores (NCEE 1983; Angus and Mirel 1999:2-3). More and more students have been taking academic courses since the reform. In 2000, 31 percent of students completed recommended core requirements: 4 units of English, 3 units of social science, 3 units of science, 3 units of mathematics, 2 units of foreign language, and 0.5 unit of computer science (NCES 2003a).
Standardized test scores have generally been used to measure academic achievement. Under the 1994 law, states are required to test students once during elementary school, middle school, and high school. In January 2002, President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” Bill which requires annual state tests in reading and mathematics for every child in grades three through eight, starting in no later than the 2005-6 school year. Recently, some states and school districts have developed specific curricula which teachers are expected to follow in order to raise test scores, though critics point out “teaching to the test” undermines students’ creativity (TIME March 6, 2000). Teachers are being held responsible for their students’ performance. The teachers, principals, and administrators in California’s lower 50 percent of schools, who helped students raise their standardized test scores were eligible for large cash bonuses from the state’s testing-and-accountability programs (Los Angeles Times October 10, 2001).
In the United States, ability grouping starts in elementary school. Elementary schools have within-class ability grouping, advanced classes for gifted and talented children, and special education classes for children with learning disabilities. Middle and high schools usually use a tracking system, which distribute students among ability- or interest-based classes. Since the early 1970s, programs for gifted students have become popular in public schools, and 12 percent of students receive some kind of advanced instruction. In public schools, gifted students are invited to participate in special math, science, or arts classes. Some districts provide summer camps or after-school classes for gifted students. In California, 6.12 percent of students participate in these programs. Students who enroll in these programs often need to have an IQ of 120 or higher, but many programs accept students on the basis of teacher recommendations, academic records, interviews, or other tests (Los Angeles Times April 1, 2001).
In Japan, ability grouping and tracking in elementary and middle schools has been a taboo subject because of the egalitarian philosophy of education following World War II. However, during the 2002-3 school year, the MOE launched limited ability grouping for advanced students in elementary and middle schools. Upon entering high school, almost all Japanese 15-year-olds take entrance examinations that determine their placement in hierarchically ranked academic, vocational, or comprehensive high schools.
In the United States, the number of public school students diagnosed with learning disabilities (LD) had increased to six percent by 1998. The majority of LD children stay in special education throughout their school years, and may encounter discrimination in postsecondary education and employment. However, a survey showed that only 15 percent of LD students met the clinical definition of LD, and that most students diagnosed with LD lived in poverty, and scored low in cognitive development (Meyer, Harry and Sapon-Shevin 1997:337). The overrepresentation of minority and disadvantaged children indicates that the low scores on reading performance are caused not by learning disabilities, but by poverty, disadvantaged educational environments, and the lack of early education (Los Angeles Times December 12, 1999; Agbenyega and Jiggetts 1999). Early compensatory education for disadvantaged children, such as Head Start, helps these children avoid being labeled as LD. In Japan, the MOE plans to start similar special education for children diagnosed with learning disabilities.
In the United States, elementary schools do not have tracking systems, but many teachers frequently use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all students in a classroom. It is believed that the students learn more successfully if they are taught according to their levels of readiness, interests, and learning profiles (Tomlinson 2000). In middle schools, ability grouping and tracking in reading, English, and mathematics classes is very common. According to a 1993 survey, 82 percent of middle schools used ability grouping to some extent, though 36 percent of schools reported that they might abandon ability grouping (Mills 1998). Black, Hispanic and Native American students and low-income students are overrepresented in the lower tracks. It is generally believed that tracking gives high-achieving students the challenge and stimulation that they need, while it stigmatizes low-achievers as slow learners, and relegates them to second-class status, with inferior instruction, less experienced or committed teachers, and lower expectations.
Tracking in middle schools has declined nationwide. Middle school educators have argued that the enriched curriculum, high-level thinking, and problem-solving techniques used in gifted classes would benefit all students (Tomlinson 1995a, 1995b). Public high schools usually have three tracks: academic, general, and vocational. In addition to their distribution requirements for graduation, students take classes according to their interests and academic goals. College-bound students may take more honor classes, or Advanced Placement classes; vocational students may take courses in typing and business.
[Back to the top]
By 2020, it is estimated that the number of minority students will reach half the student body of the United States. About 14 percent of students speak a language other than English (Banks 1999). In the spring of 1996, public teachers consisted of whites (90.7%), blacks (7.3%), Asian/Pacific Islanders (1.0%) and American Indian/Alaska Natives (1.0%), including Hispanics in terms of origin (4%). In the fall of 2000, non-white students comprised 38.8 percent of all elementary and secondary school students (including 17.2% blacks, 16.3% Hispanics, 4.1% Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 1.2% American Indians/Alaskan Natives). The distribution of students in degree-granting institutions in the fall of 2000 consisted of 28.2% minority students (11.3% blacks, 9.5% Hispanics, 6.4% Asians or Pacific Islanders, and 1.0% American Indians/Alaskan Natives) (NCES 2003a).
Starting in elementary school, black and Hispanic students perform less well than white students. The academic performance of nine-year old black children in the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) achievement tests was lower than that of white children, and the gap in the academic performance persisted at ages 13 and 17, although the gaps in reading, mathematics, and science have narrowed. Hispanic students (Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans) also had lower scores than white students in the 1996 NAEP achievement tests, although their scores in English and mathematics have improved. The reading level of 17-year-old Hispanic students was similar to that of 13-year-old whites (NCES 1998).
The educational attainment of blacks and Hispanics is also lower than that of whites. Among 25- to 29-year-olds in 1997, 87 percent of blacks and 62 percent of Hispanics had a high school diploma or equivalent, compared with 93 percent of whites. Also, among 25- to 29-year-old high school graduates, 54 percent of blacks and 54 percent of Hispanics finished some college or more in 1997, compared with 68 percent of whites. However, the rate of blacks and Hispanics who have completed four-year colleges or more still lags far behind that of whites. In 1997, 16 percent of blacks and 18 percent of Hispanics received a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 35 percent of whites (NCES 1998).
Blacks and Hispanics are generally less likely to be employed, and when employed, they earn less than whites with the same level of education. Among 25- to 34-year-old men who have a bachelor’s degree, 97 percent of whites and 87 percent of blacks were employed full-time in 1997, and 7.4 percent of blacks and 1.6 percent of whites were unemployed that same year. In 1994-1996, 25- to 34-year-old white men with a bachelor’s degree earned $7,900 more than their black counterparts, and $4,400 more than their Hispanic counterparts (NCES 1998).
Children’s home environment significantly affects their performance in the classroom. Parents with higher socioeconomic status and educational attainment are generally more involved with their children’s education, and spend more time and money on their children’s education. Black and Hispanic children are more likely to live in single-parent households, and have parents with lower socioeconomic status, as well as lower educational attainment than white children. Forty-nine percent of all black children and 31 percent of all Hispanic children live with only one parent. Single parents, mainly mothers, usually have less time to read to their children, supervise homework, or meet with teachers (Fuller et al. 1996:7). Also, 42 percent of black children (1995) and 40 percent pf Hispanic children (1996) lived in poverty, compared with 10 percent of white children (1996). In 1997, 79 percent of fathers and 78 percent of mothers of black children (ages 15-18), and 46 percent of fathers and 45 percent of mothers of Hispanic children had at least a high school diploma or equivalent, compared with 90 percent of fathers and 92 percent of mothers of white children (NCES 1998).
The number of immigrant children reached 5 million in 1994. By 2010, this number will almost double, accounting for about one-fourth of all school-aged children (Fix and Passel 1994). They are concentrated in California, New York, Texas, and Florida. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of all Hispanic children and 90 percent of all Asian children have at least one foreign-born parent (Fuligni 1998:127).
According to a 1980-1986 survey of high school students, immigrant children were at least as academically successful as those who had American-born parents. Immigrant children and their parents have a more positive view of education, and place a higher priority on college education than American-born students and their parents. The rate of high school graduation among immigrant children is highest among Asian students, compared with whites, blacks and Hispanics (Vernez and Abrahamse 1996).
Immigrant high school graduates continued on to college more than their American-born counterparts. Four out of five Asian high school graduates went on to college, while one out of two Hispanic high school graduates did (Vernez and Abrahamse 1996). The National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 through 1992 confirmed that Asian students with a foreign-born parent earned higher grades and math scores, and that Hispanic, black, and white students with immigrant parents performed as well as their native born counterparts with American-born parents (Kao and Tienda 1995).
In 1954, the Supreme Court mandated the desegregation of schools with “all deliberate speed,” rejecting the “separate but equal” doctrine in Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. From the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, the courts aggressively enforced desegregation. In 1971, the Supreme Court granted mandatory busing in order for black children in inner cities to attend suburban white schools. In the wake of World War II, blacks have been concentrated in poor urban areas, separated from suburban middle-class whites. However, since the 1970s, the residential segregation of blacks has somewhat diminished, as more middle-class blacks have moved to suburbs in the West and South (Farley and Frey 1994; Los Angeles Times June 24, 2001).
The percentage of black students who attended predominantly white schools increased from 13 percent in 1968 to 37 percent in 1980 (Jacob 1996:60). On the other hand, most school boards hesitate to transfer white students to predominantly non-white schools. White parents are much more likely to send their children to private schools rather than enroll them in public schools that have large black or Hispanic student populations. Mandatory transfers are more frequently found in the South while the voluntary transfers are more common in the North and Midwest (Wells and Crain 1997:277-278).
Magnet schools have also been recognized as vehicles for voluntary desegregation. The South, where 0.01 percent of black students were enrolled in predominately white schools in 1954, is still the most racially integrated part of the country, although the rate of black students in predominantly white schools decreased 43.5 percent in 1988 to 39.2 percent in 1991. Interestingly, Northeastern and Midwest states such as Illinois, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey are the most segregated (Eaton and Orfield 1996:119).
Since the 1980s, the courts have been less aggressive in enforcing integration. The courts have even overturned race-based desegregation policies and busing. In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled in Board of Education of Oklahoma v. Dowell that mandatory court-ordered busing could be stopped once school districts had taken all practicable measures to eliminate segregation. In 1992, the Supreme Court allowed local school districts to decide the ratio of white to minority students and the continuation of desegregation initiatives (Jacobs 1996:62-63). A federal judge ordered a race-blind plan for San Francisco schools for the 2000-1 school year, replacing a 1983 federal desegregation plan of San Francisco with mandatory racial quotas (Los Angeles Times January 3, 2000). As a result, many urban schools are becoming racially re-segregated, as more students attend neighborhood schools (Orfield et al. 1996). On average the black students attended schools with 33 percent white students in 1996, compared with 36 percent white students in 1980 (Los Angeles Times June 12, 1999). In 1999, at least 500 school districts had federal desegregation orders, in addition to an unknown number of districts with desegregation orders without any federal involvement (Los Angeles Times September 11, 1999).
Desegregation seems to have improved literacy rates, post-secondary education, and occupational prospects of black students (Schofield 1996). However, many desegregated schools have been re-segregated within schools through tracking, ability grouping, and special education assignments (Hall 1997:18; Lomotey and Fossey 1997:406-407). Some educators and minority leaders, disappointed with desegregation, instead focus on improving the educational performance of minority students in neighborhood schools (Hall 1997:18; Eaton and Orfield 1996:127).
In the United States, the government subsidizes compensatory education and affirmative action programs for children with disadvantaged home environments. In 1999, Head Start, with a $4.3 billion budget provided preschool education for more than 831,000 children between the ages of three and four from low-income families (GAO 2000:3-4). In 1993-1994, one-third of public elementary and secondary school students received publicly funded free or reduced-priced lunches. Also, about 13 percent of elementary and secondary schoolchildren received Title I service (NCES 2001a).
Title I, Part A funded $7.1 billion in 1997 to subsidize educational agencies and schools for low-achieving disadvantaged children. Seventy-seven percent of the funds were spent on instruction, and hiring additional teachers and instructional aides. Twelve percent was used for instructional materials and computers, and another 12 percent for program administration. In 1994-1995, the highest-poverty quartile school districts with 49 percent of the nation’s poor children had total revenues of $6,245 per student, including federal subsidies of $692 per student, while the lower-poverty districts with 7 percent of the poor children had total revenues of $6,958 per student, including federal subsidies of $172 per student. In 1997-1998, teachers in elementary schools in the poorest areas with at least 75 percent of students in poverty had lower salaries ($35,115), less experience (13.3 years), and fewer master’s or higher degrees (37%) than those in lower-poverty elementary schools with less than 35 percent of students in poverty, where teachers had had an average of $40,839 per year in salary, 15.5 years of experience, and 49 percent had at least a master’s degree (DOE 2000b).
A typical Title I elementary school with 500 students in 1997-1998 added 4.4 full-time staff, including 2.1 more teachers with an average annual salary of $36,427, 1.9 teachers’ aides with an average annual salary of $12,627, and 0.5 non-instructional staff. Title I teachers spent two-thirds of their time in instructional activities, including 49 percent of their time in resource rooms and departmentalized classes, 14 percent in the classroom, and another 3 percent on tutoring, in addition to planning, preparation, grading, and other activities. In 1997-1998, high-poverty elementary schools (74%) were more likely than low-poverty elementary schools (36%) to provide extended-time instructional or tutorial programs during the school year. On average, 7 percent of the students, including 14 percent of the students in the poorest schools attended these programs. Extended-time instructional programs averaged 116 hours during the school year (DOE 2000b).
Many colleges consider the racial composition of students, and use affirmative action programs to increase the number of minority students. Minority students may also receive special consideration for admissions and/or special scholarships. The percentage of minority college students has increased from 15.4 percent in 1976 to 28.2 percent in 1999 (NCES 2003a). Quotas, for minority students in college admissions were declared unconstitutional by a 1978 Supreme Court case in which a white applicant for medical school sued the University of California for “reverse discrimination.” However, the verdict allows for the use of race and ethnicity as a “plus” factor, but not as the decisive factor in admissions (The Regents of University of California v. Bakke).
Title VI of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act and the 1974 Supreme Court decision guarantee language-minority students, or Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, to receive additional aid at school. Generally, bilingual education is targeted to Spanish-speaking elementary school children and/or English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are provided for LEP students. In California, four-fifths of students, 1.4 million LEP students spoke Spanish as their native language in 1998. Fewer than one-third of LEP students received bilingual education, and others took ESL courses before being enrolled in regular classes. Fewer than 7 percent of LEP students graduate from LEP classes every year (Los Angeles Times May 8, 1998; Los Angeles Times May 18, 1998).
Bilingual education in California’s public schools was denied when voters passed Proposition 227 on June 2, 1998. Proposition 227 stated that “All children in California public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English.” More than 400,000 LEP students were in bilingual education programs at that time (Los Angeles Times May 6, 1998; June 4, 1998). However, parents of LEP students can request bilingual education for their children. In the Los Angeles United School District, many students in English immersion classes received substantial help in their native languages from bilingual teachers, and 11,809 students (far fewer than the 107,226 students in 1997) requested bilingual classes in the fall of 1998 (Los Angeles Times October 22, 1998).
In Japan, the government subsidizes education for minority and disadvantaged children (socially discriminated Buraku children, indigenous Ainu children, ethnic minority Korean children, ethnic and/or linguistic minority foreign children, such as Nikkei children, Chinese returnee children, and refugee children) in order to improve the educational achievements of minority children and to enhance their minority identity.
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s triggered a multicultural education movement, which focused on the culture and history of blacks. Since the late 1970s, multicultural education has expanded to include gender, class, language, ability, religion, and sexual orientation. The purpose of multicultural education is to learn about minority cultures from their perspectives, to reduce prejudice and discrimination, and to improve the academic achievement of minority students with cooperative learning and de-tracking (Banks 1999:14-17).
In practice, social studies and language arts textbooks pay far more attention to minority cultures than ever before. Middle and high schools teach multicultural education through regular classes in English or history/social studies. Elementary schools may have more special events for multicultural education, for example, teaching about Mexican culture on May 5, the Mexican national holiday. According to a survey, 46 percent of 713 school districts with 10,000 or more students had multicultural education programs. Of these programs, 88 percent were for all students, almost 50 percent used ethnic studies curricula in social studies or language arts courses, almost 30 percent had anti-racism programs, and 11 percent had specific programs for developing inter-group harmony (Aboud and Levy 2000:278).
In Japan, Japanese children learn about minority cultures and history under human rights education through special events and textbooks, in order to reduce prejudice and discrimination toward minority children.
[Back to the top]
The 1872 School Ordinance mandated compulsory four-year elementary school system (expanded to six years in 1907) for all children from the ages of 6-14, whose enrollment rate reached almost 100 percent in 1915. The 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education took a significant role in prewar education based on patriotism and Confucianism, which emphasized loyalty to the emperor, filial piety, and affection and trust among family and friends. Progressive educators advocated child-centered education for middle class children in urban areas briefly during the “Taishō Democracy” in the 1920s before militaristic wartime education in the 1930s and the early 1940s, when all children were taught to fight for the Emperor Hirohito, who was regarded as a “Living God” in the 1940 National History for elementary school children.
After World War II, the Ministry of Education (MOE) established a new “democratic” educational system and emphasized progressive child-centered education, modeled on the American educational system during the U.S. occupation (1945-1952). Afterwards, however, Japanese education has become highly centralized under the direction of the MOE, which has controlled school administration, curriculum, pedagogy, and educational content in textbooks. During the period of rapid economic growth (1953-1973), the majority of young people enjoyed upward social mobility through education. The high school and college enrollment rates increased rapidly from 51.5 percent in 1955 to 91.9 percent in 1975 for high school, and from 10.1 percent in 1955 to 38.4 percent in 1975 for college. Then, the enrollment rates of high schools and colleges stabilized during the time of slow economic growth. High school enrollment rose from 91.9 percent in 1975 to 97.0 percent in 2000 and college enrollment increased from 38.4 percent in 1975 to 49.1 percent in 2000.
Parents and teachers have encouraged students to aspire to entering the finest schools and colleges, as Japan evolved into an “educational credential society” in the 1960s. Educational credentials are used to gauge the knowledge and potential of job seekers as well as the cognitive quality of persons in general. In fact, the educational achievement of children is most affected by the amount of education that their parents received. Highly educated parents expect their children to accomplish more, and are willing to invest more in their children’s education.
Based on proposals by the National Council on Educational Reform (NCER) (Rinkyōshin) in 1987, the MOE has been implementing large-scale educational reform for the deregulation of the school system, the diversification of curriculum, changes in the examination system, the promotion of higher education, the development of lifelong education, the promotion of scientific research, information technology and sports, and the internationalization of education in order to improve the rigid and uniform Japanese educational system. In 2000, the National Commission on Educational Reform proposed the implementation of ability grouping in primary and secondary education, the enforcement of regular achievement tests in high schools, the promotion of six-year secondary schools, the implementation of volunteer activities, the evaluation of teachers, and revision of the Fundamental Law of Education.
The 1998 Course of Study for 2002 onward created the field of “integrated study.” Each school determines what and how to teach international issues, information science, environmental issues, social welfare, and/or health issues through debates, volunteer activities, surveys and/or experiments in order to develop the creativity and individuality of students. Moreover, each school can determine the length of classes. Middle and high school students have many more elective courses than they did in the past.
Compared with Japanese education, each American school district administers its own schools. Since the 1983 reform report: A Nation at Risk, the United States has moved from a less structured curriculum to one that rigorously teaches “the basics.” The number of students taking academic courses has increased, and teachers are held accountable for their students’ performance on standardized tests. In contrast, Japan, which had taught basics thoroughly through memorization and rote learning, reflected on its pedagogy, and began educational reforms, based on the 1987 Rinkyōshin report to promote deregulation, diversity, and individuality.
In the United States, students are divided according to academic ability into gifted classes, and special education classes for children with learning disabilities. Many elementary schools have within-class ability grouping, and most middle and high schools have a tracking system, based on the students’ academic abilities. In Japan, there is no ability grouping in elementary and middle schools nationwide, though the MOE has experimented with ability grouping for advanced elementary and middle school students. As of May 2003, 74.2 percent of elementary schools and 66.9 percent of middle schools enforce small-scale ability grouping (AS February 24, 2004). High school students are already sorted by entrance examinations into hierarchically ranked academic, vocational, or comprehensive high schools.
In the United States, compensatory education and affirmative action programs such as Head Start and Title I funds are provided for disadvantaged or minority children. In Japan, minority and disadvantaged children, such as Buraku children, Ainu children, Korean resident children, and foreign children also receive compensatory education.
1872 The School Ordinance.
1890 The Imperial Rescript on Education.
1918 The College Ordinance and High School Ordinance.
1947 The Fundamental Law of Education. The Basic School Law. The 6-3-3-4 school system is established. The Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU) is organized.
1956 The publicly elected board of education is replaced by the appointed board of education approved by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
1964 Legalization of junior colleges.
1969 The Special Measures Law for Dōwa Projects.
1976 Specialized training colleges are established.
1982 The Textbook Controversy over the “Invasion of China.”
1987 The National Council on Educational Reform’s (Rinkyōshin) recommendation.
1989 The All Japan Teachers and Staffs Union (Zenkyō) is created.
1990 The Lifelong Learning Promotion Law.
1993 Comprehensive high schools and comprehensive courses in high schools are regulated.
1995 School counselors are deployed at school. Cooperation between the JTU and the Ministry of Education.
1998 Deregulation of the Law for the Regulation of Teachers’ Certificates.
2000 The National Commission on the Educational Reform’s recommendation. The Law on the Promotion of Human Rights Education and Raising Human Rights Awareness.
2002 Introduction of the five-day school week.
1. Japanese schools and education are discussed in English (e.g., Shields 1989; Beauchamp 1991; 1998; Rholen and Björk 1998; DOE 1998; Okano and Tsuchiya 1999; Goodman and Phillips 2003).
2. The promotion of public six-year secondary schools was intended to ease “examination hell,” and by 2003, there were 183 six-year secondary schools (Monbukagakushō 2004a). Furthermore, starting in April 2002, the Ministry of Education (MOE) assigned two research schools to test the combination of elementary and middle school education as a part of the deregulation of the school system for three years (AS May 11, 2002).
3. Children who have turned six years old by March 31 enter elementary school.
4. Schools had four-unit hours of classes in the morning every Saturday until 1992. Since 1993, schools had one Saturday a month off, and since 1995, two Saturdays a month off. Starting in April 2002, there have been no Saturday classes at public schools.
5. Schoppa argues that the drastic changes sought by Prime Minister Nakasone and the neo-conservative internationalist group were compromised by the resistance of the MOE, a power broker of the existing education system backed by conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians in the final report (Schoppa 1991a:251).
6. According to the occupational categories in the SSM survey, managerial positions include principal managers of companies with at least 30 employees, and sectional managers or chief managers in the government and companies with at least 300 employees.
7. Articles and books about history of education from 1800 to the 1980s (Marshall 1994), in the Tokugawa era (Dore 1965; Rubinger 1982), the prewar period (Gluck 1985; Motoyama 1997; Lincicome 1991), the Occupation era (Kawai 1960), and postwar period (Beauchamp 1991) have been published in English.
8. From 1872 to 1900, the Elementary School Law mandated that students of the same academic levels be grouped in the same grade regardless of their age (Satō 1998:192).
9. Since 1985, the enrollment rate of high schools has included the correspondence courses of high schools (Monbukagakushō 2001a:27).
10. Comparative analyses of Japanese schools and American schools are discussed in many English books and articles (Cummings 1986; Ichikawa 1986; Tobin 1986; Duke 1986, 1991; Lynn 1988; Beauchamp 1991; Stevenson and Stigler 1992; Rohlen and LeTendre 1996; Shimahara and Sakai 1995; Wray 1999; LeTendre 1999; LeTendre 2000; Tsuneyoshi 2001; DeCoker 2002).
11. Many middle schools use interdisciplinary team teaching, exploratory education, and cooperative learning for intellectual development, and for the development of social skills, personal values, and understanding of adult roles (Kerka 1994).[Back to the top]
|Previous||Table of Contents||Next|